Good Morning, Zooplankton

Snap quiz. Pencils out, notebooks away. What are zooplankters? What do zooplankton feed upon? Why are plankton important? How does knowing anything about plankton help you find fish?

Exchange papers. One wrong and you flunk. (C'mon, people. You're supposed to know this stuff.)

Zooplankters are microscopic animals that include grazers that feed upon phytoplankton (microscopic plants) or detritus, and predators that feed on other zooplankton and, in some cases, larval fish and invertebrate larvae.

Phytoplankton is the foundation of the aquatic food chain. It produces oxygen. Oceanic plankton creates up to 85% of the oxygen you take in with every breath. Phytoplankton is diurnal, meaning it moves up-and-down in daily cycles, according to light levels. Zooplankton follows along.

Predators like bluegills follow the zooplankton. Predators like crappies follow the shiners and shad that follow the plankton. Predators like muskies cruise beneath these floating food chains to feed on the bluegills, crappies, ciscoes, and other fish attracted to the minnows attracted to the plankton. These floating food chains can be concentrated or scattered by wind patterns over days and weeks. Steady winds over a period of days can concentrate these gypsy food chains along shorelines and all connected points, reefs, humps, weedlines, and breaks.

That's one string. Pull a string, catch a fish. Everything is connected. You and phytoplankton, for instance. Your survival is plugged directly to the base of the aquatic food chain. In fact, you stand but small chance of surviving without it. That's why one wrong flunks the quiz. No room for error.

Shouldn't plankton be more interesting than that new app on your cell phone? We can't build a blade of grass, let alone a single plankter or amoeba. We can't breathe without plankton. But we certainly know how to entertain ourselves with the toys we can make. Reminds me of Ernest Scwhiebert's fly-fishing tale called The Platforms of Despair. He gives up on the giant Atlantics in Norway's Steeplechase (which is 8 miles long but falls 4 miles)  to play with sea-run brown trout at the river's mouth. The lodge owner finds him, shakes his head and says, "I show you tigers and you play with pussy cats."

An intuitive naturalist with no sonar, GPS, or any other kind of electronics stands a good chance of finding better fishing than many a weekend warrior, simply by knowing something about plankton, baitfish, predators, wind, seasons, and food chains.

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